obituary: Dr Stephen Pheasant

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The Independent Online
Stephen Pheasant was an internationally-renowned ergonomist, a gifted and best- selling academic author and an accomplished jazz musician.

Pheasant was raised in Islington, London before going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to read Medical Science in 1968. His contemporaries there will perhaps remember him best for his passion for free jazz and his role in taking the musically- based shows Stoney Ground and Make Me, Make You to the Edinburgh Fringe in consecutive years. His earlier experience with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the inspiration of his hero Charlie Parker no doubt influenced him to form, subsequently, the Steve Pheasant Quintet which played every Friday at the White Hart Inn, Drury Lane, in central London, from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s.

Students of his at the Royal Free Hospital and University College London, where he lectured for many years in Anatomy, Biomechanics and Ergonomics, the scientific study of people and work, could rarely have encountered a more exceptional communicator. His ability to conceptualise and then project complex bio- mechanical functions in a suitable mode for student learning were testimony to his instinct for education and scholarship.

He followed with keen interest the progress of the ergonomists he helped train and was always free to discuss research issues. His academic and textbook publications were recognised for their application and clarity, a talent acknowledged through the 1974 award, sponsored by the New Scientist magazine, for writing about science in plain English.

Such skills were inevitably sought by other academic institutions and learned societies; thus he was always high on the invited speaker lists of con-ference organisers, both in Britain and abroad. Professional societies, including the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal College of Nursing, recognised his abilities, as did the British School of Osteopathy, where he held an honorary chair.

His written output was prolific and his textbooks, including Bodyspace (1986) and Ergonomics, Work and Health (1990) have become standards on reading lists around the world. His research output was recognised by the Ergonomics Society with the award of the Sir Frederic Bartlett Medal in 1982, jointly with his close colleague Professor Donald Grieve. His published data on human dimensions have been cited in more ergonomic designs than perhaps any other, and we are thus grateful too for his contribution to improved design of equipment, tools and many other artefacts of work and leisure use. Office furniture, production lines, drivers' consoles and public seating areas are just some of the locations which are more user-friendly because of his endeavours.

When Pheasant moved from the academic world, he chose to enter the field of personal injury litigation, in particular specialising in work-related musculoskeletal damage, including back pain and so-called "RSI" or repetitive strain injury. As an expert witness, most frequently acting on behalf of the injured party, he was perhaps at his most fulfilled. His desire to challenge orthodoxy, his intellectual skills, his ability to communicate, his love of fierce debate, and his instinct for "telling a good story" were all given full rein in such an arena. I have rarely seen him happier than when we developed litigious arguments or exchanged courtroom anecdotes with the help of a good Bordeaux. I am sure that adversaries and colleagues alike will sorely miss his presence and his skills.

Stephen Pheasant will be remembered by a large and diverse group of friends, colleagues, students, courtroom colleagues and musicians. This alone is testimony to a man whose undoubted intellectual, creative and communicative skills were matched only by his verve and energy in a wealth of areas.

Stephen Pheasant, ergonomist: born London 30 March 1949; died Nice, France 30 March 1996.